It’s old home week for the Library Journal/School Library Journal staff as we start new jobs, right old wrongs, live in fairy tales, and don our Devo hats.
Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, School Library Journal
This week, I reread an old favorite, Mary Gaitskill’s short story “Secretary.”* It’s the tale that the (very scintillating!) film starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader is based upon, though the original piece is quite a bit darker. Here’s an excerpt I really enjoyed:
My family’s enthusiasm made me feel sarcastic about the job, about any effort to do anything, in fact. In light of their enthusiasm, the only intelligent course of action seemed to be immobility and rudeness. But in the morning as I ate my poached eggs and toast, I couldn’t help but feel curious and excited. The feeling grew as I rode in the car with my mother to the receding orange building. I felt like I was accomplishing something. I wanted to do well. When we drove past the Amy Joy doughnut shop, I saw, through the wall of glass, expectant construction workers in heavy boots and jackets sitting on vinyl swivel seats, waiting for coffee and bags of doughnuts. I had sentimental thoughts about workers and the decency of unthinking toil. I was pleased to be like them, insofar as I was. I returned my mother’s smile when I got out of the car and said “thanks” when she said “good luck.”
*Read the full story here.
Shelley M. Diaz, Senior Editor, Reviews, SLJ
I finally read Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel (Farrar) with my book club, a fun literary romp for book lovers and techies alike. Complete with secret word-worshipping societies and hip, game- and web-designing wizards, this novel takes readers on a coast-crossing quest to unlock the mysteries of the universe. Quirky characters, delightful asides, and geek-speak dialog elicited several chuckles as I read it on my commute. So many amazing lines to quote, but I don’t want to give anything away, so here’s one that really rang true for me:
Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines—it’s hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits. That’s just a feeling, not a fact, but remember: people believe weirder things than this.
Liz French, Senior Editor, Reviews, Library Journal
I’m just back from a trip to my hometown, Indianapolis, IN, where I finally got a chance to really use my Kindle. Secreted away on it are oh so many things: a friend’s manuscript; the New York Times online edition; another friend’s manuscript; some e-galleys; and a debut novel by Kimberly McCreight, Reconstructing Amelia (HarperCollins) that I’ve been meaning to read since last year, when it came out.
Reconstructing Amelia is about a single mom’s search for the truth when her daughter is accused of plagiarism and dies after a fall from the roof of her tony private school. Did she jump? Was she pushed? And who is sending the texts reading, “Amelia didn’t jump” to her?
There’s a lot to like about the novel, including the Park Slope, Brooklyn, setting (it was nice to read about my adopted “hometown” while visiting the old one). McCreight really seems to know the inner workings of a high-powered law firm, where the mom character, Kate, works. She also renders the dynamics of a mean-girl secret society very well. But she tries to put too much into her first book. There’s a dizzying amount of plot twists, several hastily sketched characters; too many villains; a couple plot holes. All that said, I couldn’t put this one down, and I can’t wait to read McCreight’s next one.
Kathy Ishizuka, Executive Editor, SLJ
A reading experience can stem from the most unlikely of places. A visit to my physical therapist tipped me on this one, a memoir by his colleague: The Bosnia List (Penguin), by Kenan Trebincevic and Susan Shapiro. A survivor of the Bosnian civil war who fled, along with his family, at age 12, Trebincevic returns to his hometown of Brćko decades later to honor his aging father’s wish to see his homeland and to exact some small, personal measure of revenge for the ethnic cleansing campaign against Muslims, from which his family narrowly escaped in 1993. Confront the next-door neighbor who stole from them; stand on the grave of the once-beloved coach who turned on him—so go the items on Trebincevic’s “list.”
Young Kenan’s story is told in flashback—most troubling are the betrayals by children, former friends who became enemies overnight. The moral reconciliation by neighbors and friends—and the kindnesses of strangers—are no less confounding to the grown Trebincevic, who struggles with his own moral compass during the return to Brćko.
The parallel between Nazi atrocities of the 1940s and another European genocide occurring in the 1990s was not lost on Susan Shapiro, a Jewish American writer, who was a client of Trebincevic’s. One outcome of those PT sessions was this book.
Stephanie Klose, Media Editor, Library Journal
I love a good reimagined fairy tale, and Elizabeth Blackwell’s While Beauty Slept (Amy Einhorn: Putnam) is proving to be just that. Written as though the events in “Sleeping Beauty” were historical fact, the story focuses on Elise, a poor country girl who becomes the queen’s handmaiden and bears witness to the sad, strange events of Princess Rose’s life. Not yet though! When I reached my subway stop this morning, Elise had just arrived at the castle to look for work, so new to townfolks’ ways she didn’t even know to move out of the way when a chamber pot was emptied out of a window above her.
Meredith Schwartz, Senior Editor, News & Features, LJ
I am reading (well, mostly looking at the pictures in) Brick Shakespeare: The Comedies—A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Taming of the Shrew. This work of staggering genius from Skyhorse Publishing features construction and photography by John McCann, edited and narrated by Monica Sweeney and Becky Thomas. I am breaking my rule that I have Enough Editions of Shakespeare Already because this one is made out of Legos. How could I resist? I must confess, the Devo hat on Sebastian is a little distracting, but Lego Caliban is positively eerie.